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Tornadoes across South may further strain flatbed capacity

Construction needs likely to rise across region in wake of damage

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

After severe storms and tornadoes ripped through Texas on Monday, other parts of the South were next in line. Building back in heavily damaged areas will increase demand for construction materials and flatbed capacity to truck those goods.

People continue to pick through debris after tornadoes struck the New Orleans area Wednesday, killing at least one person and leaving thousands without power.

One of the tornadoes killed a person and caused heavy damage Tuesday night in the Arabi neighborhood in St. Bernard Parish, just east of downtown New Orleans. This was according to Parish President Guy McInnis. Several other people were treated for minor injuries, he told CNN.

Some houses collapsed; others were pulled from their foundations and left in the streets. Roofs were ripped off other buildings, and vehicles were overturned. Streets and yards were littered with wood, metal and downed power lines.

“It’s about a 2-mile stretch [of damage],” McInnis said. “We have stretches of streets where there are no homes now.”

Given the damage, “it was a miracle” that more people weren’t killed or hurt, he added.

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The tornado that hit Arabi touched down in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward and the New Orleans East community just before 8 p.m. CT Tuesday, according to New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

According to a National Weather Service report, the tornado began near Harvey, just south of downtown New Orleans on the other side of the Mississippi River. It traveled through Arabi, where the tornado reached its maximum strength — a high-end EF3 with winds of 160 mph — before ending just south of East New Orleans. The tornado stayed on the ground for 11.5 miles and was as wide as 320 yards.

It slammed some of the areas hit hardest by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and last year’s Hurricane Ida.

“We’ve been through this, it seems, like a gazillion times, but we are good at it, and we’re going to get started this morning,” McInnis said.

A separate tornado touched down Tuesday evening near Lacombe in St. Tammany Parish, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, snapping dozens of trees and reportedly causing minor damage to some structures. The NWS said this tornado stayed on the ground for about 12 miles, produced winds of 90 mph and 100 yards wide.

New Orleans police and other emergency workers were staging to help in St. Bernard Parish, Cantrell said.

“Residents should avoid all travel that isn’t essential, to provide an opportunity for the professionals to handle this situation,” Cantrell added.

More than 7,000 customers in St. Bernard Parish had no electricity Wednesday morning, down to about 1,700 as of Thursday afternoon, according to

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards toured damaged areas Wednesday, tweeting, “I met with residents & local leaders today to hear their needs and pledge the state’s support of their long-term recovery efforts.”

Tornadoes also caused damage in parts of Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday.

Impact on freight

Building construction typically picks up in the South as the weather gets warmer through spring and summer. One indication of this is demand for flatbed trailer capacity. Lumber, as well as other construction materials like roofing, siding and windows, are transported mostly on large flatbeds.

(Map: FreightWaves SONAR Flatbed Outbound Tender Rejection Index (FOTRI) chart. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.)

The Flatbed Outbound Tender Rejection Index (FOTRI) in FreightWaves SONAR measures the level of flatbed loads offered by shippers that carriers are declining for various reasons. Recently, FOTRI has been decreasing, meaning carriers are accepting more flatbed loads. This trend is likely to continue in the coming months as overall construction in the U.S. goes into full swing, according to FreightWaves economist and market expert Anthony Smith. 

As people begin rebuilding in neighborhoods hit by this week’s storms, demand for construction materials may add a bit more stress to flatbed capacity, which could then boost flatbed rates on the spot market.

Major lanes of concern

• Interstate 10 from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama.
• Interstate 20 in Mississippi from Jackson to Meridian.
• Interstate 55 from New Orleans to Jackson.
• Interstate 59 from New Orleans to Meridian.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.